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Would you recognize elder abuse if you see the signs?

The abuse of older people is a social problem that is prevalent but often well disguised. It involves various types of ill-treatment of elders and often leads to psychological or physical harm. The losses could also include their homes, life savings, security, dignity and independence. Some suggest that those who are not victims of elder abuse live longer than people who are.

Types of elder abuse

The abuse of elders and neglect can occur at home where relatives or homecare providers are the abusers or at nursing homes where the staff takes advantage of seniors in one or more of the following ways:

· Physical abuse -- Bruises, dislocations, broken bones, burns and more are telltale signs of physical abuse from individuals who want to show they are in control and yield power over a victim. Family members may bring injured victims to different medical facilities so as not to raise suspicion, and this often happens days after the injury occurred. Medical staff at hospitals have even reported lesions on arms and legs that suggested the elderly victims were tied to a chair or something similar.

· Sexual abuse -- Despite the horror of the idea, some health care attendants or family members force themselves onto vulnerable elders to perform nonconsensual sexual acts. Victims are often those with physical limitations or cognitive disabilities, along with isolated individuals. Bruising and bleeding on thighs and genital areas may indicate such abuse, but those are not typically areas seen by family members or other concerned individuals. However, difficulty of sitting and walking, inappropriate behavior of a caregiver and unexplained STDs are some of the signs for which to look.

· Domestic abuse -- This may be a continuation of violence experienced by the victim over the years. Perpetrators are often spouses or common-law partners, and in some cases, the elder abuse goes hand-in-hand with alcohol or drug abuse. The signs are similar to those seen with sexual and physical abuse, and the abuser may attempt to keep visitors away from the victim.

· Psychological abuse -- Mental and emotional anguish can follow humiliation, threats and nonverbal conduct by caregivers and often happens to elders who are secluded from social contact. Signs of this type of abuse can be picked up with the observation of the victim's behavior. Those who struggle to sleep, have stress-related disorders, such as high blood pressure, and suffer unexplained gain or loss of weight might be victims of psychological abuse. Depression, confusion, emotional agitation and fear in the presence of a caregiver can be other signs of abuse.

· Financial abuse -- Gaining a position of confidant in an elder's life is often the way financial abusers go about misusing resources or funds. This could be children, grandchildren or caregivers and often involves stealing property and/or money, forging signatures and coercion of elders to sign documents that will not be in their best interest to sign. In many cases, family members do this to manipulate inheritances. Keeping a close eye on a loved one's bank records may be one way of detecting financial abuse.

If you suspect one of your aged loved ones is suffering elder abuse -- or even just a member of your community -- you are entitled to take action to attempt to bring an end to that person's suffering. Knowing what steps to take could be challenging, and it might be a good idea to discuss the suspicions with an experienced elder abuse attorney. A seasoned lawyer will be able to provide guidance in obtaining the necessary information required for legal action against the perpetrators.

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